After creating the basic premise of an adventure, the next thing I usually do is to figure out who my major NPCs are. It’s important to try and create a broad mix of interesting people for the PCs to interact with, otherwise they all just seem like bland versions of the GM. You’ve got to disguise yourself and let the players see nothing but the characters you create. The best way to do this is through variety of races, genders, classes, and quirks. You’ll also want a good way to keep track of these NPCs so you can write them consistently across the entire adventure.
When creating NPCs, the first thing you might come up with is often the character’s race, or ancestry in Pathfinder 2.0. Using the idea of the bronze dragon kidnapping maidens (see my last blog), we know that she will be a very central NPC. If we think the nearby town is mostly humans, we’ll need someone to represent them. Authority figures work well, so let’s have a mayor who is trying to resolve this kidnapping issue quickly. We’ll also want an NPC who can rile up the PCs and get them fired up about hunting down a dragon; in my mind I see this person as a halfling who acts as the local sheriff. Lastly, we need one of the maidens to stand out and act as a representative for the kidnapped ladies. We also want to pay special attention to the ethnic backgrounds of the characters so we get a good variety with lots of representation.
Including a variety of genders is also very important. I recommend including an equal representation of male and female characters with at least one character of a non-binary or non-traditional gender. This helps keep your NPCs interesting and ensures you’re representing your entire audience. Our dragon is female, as are the maidens, based on our premise. I think we can have a male mayor, and I really like the idea of a non-binary sheriff.
In a combat heavy game like Pathfinder, this is an important decision as it has many combat implications. Our dragon is likely just a dragon, though we could add a class level if we’re feeling whimsical. Our maidens are likely commoners or experts, but we could make our main maiden a bard to represent her affluence amongst her peers. The mayor is very likely an aristocrat but giving him a level or two of fighter might represent a more militant backstory. This is likely to color his character in a rewarding way. For our halfling sheriff, let’s make them a ranger with the dragon hunter archetype. This not only makes them biased against dragons for some added tension and drama, but can also act as an interesting source of backstory and character motivation.
For every core rule-book human fighter, there is an equally boring characterization to go along with it. However, if you can add an interesting quirk or personality trait to that human fighter, they become memorable throughout the campaign. The fact that he specializes in the longsword becomes not nearly as engaging as his experimental culinary curiosity. When he is constantly looking for new and interesting things to cook and eat, the players will start to get engaged in finding ingredients for his gastronomic madness.
Perhaps the mayor sweats profusely, not due to any nervousness or feelings of guilt but just as a glandular disorder. It might make him seem suspicious in the PC’s eyes, but the guy just has over-active physiological response to heat. Our halfling sheriff is perhaps a collector of the feathers from rare birds, wearing several in their cap as an accessory. For the lead maiden, perhaps she is blind. This might be why the dragon kidnapped her in the first place, hoping for the ability to coax out information about humanoid culture without scaring her off or getting biased information for being a dragon. Once the dragon realizes that it’s difficult to get fashion advice from a blind person, the maiden recommends several of her friends who help her with her appearance. This, in turn, prompts the dragon to fly off and kidnap her friends (being a bit forgetful herself, she forgets to ask their permission before snatching them up and flying off with them).
Keeping it Organized
We have some great NPC ideas, but we need a way to keep track of them. In professional work, you’ll need full stat-blocks for any NPC that is likely to get into combat. This includes the dragon, the maidens, and the sheriff. For the mayor, he’s probably just going to be sending the PCs to find the kidnapper, answering questions, and interacting in a strictly role-play manner. For him, we’d only need his race, class, perhaps his Will save bonus, and a few skill bonuses. You’ll also want at least a paragraph of description for each major NPC that includes physical features, important backstory elements, and prominent personality traits and motivations. This descriptive paragraph gives GMs the ability to accurately role-play the character the way you intended.
If you’re writing for a home game, feel free to record just the pertinent information that you need to run the character. Don’t fret about getting all the math to work out exactly the way you want. It’s good to have consistency with information such as AC, hp, saves, and attacks, but the characters exact Wisdom score isn’t needed. In these situations, I usually create an abbreviated stat-block such as:
Role-playing Keywords patient, optimistic, cautious
Female human bard 1 / oracle of lore 1
AC 14, Fort +2, Ref +2, Will +4
Bardic performance, lore keeper
Spells bless, cure light wounds, gallant inspiration, identify, sleep, unseen servant, vocal alternation
Description Her red hair and freckles helps her stand out in a crowd. Her clothing is simple, but well-made from durable fabric. She often wears a wide-brimmed hat that hides her face.
I hope I’ve inspired you to make interesting NPCs for your next adventure!